“If I think about her,” says one friend, “what always comes to mind is that time we were attending rehearsals for a small show. One girl who was an expert in the field took over the rehearsals, but it turned out to be too difficult for her. In the beginning Sheri was really the only one who listened and took her suggestions seriously. She showed her love in concrete ways.”
That was Sehri Shiltz: simple and sensitive in her love towards the people around her. She was born in 1963 in a suburb of Chicago, Illinois, USA. She was among the first Gen in that area. (Gen are the young people in the Focolare who are committed to living its spirituality.)
However, some pain in her legs revealed something quite unexpected. She had leukemia. Sheri immediately burst into tears. After some time she began to realize that Jesus had suffered an even greater pain on the cross, one that was unexplainable like her own. This gave her courage: “I know that this leukemia is also God’s love for me.” The doctors were shocked by her remarkable peace and courage.
Fortunately, a bone marrow transplant and long recovery permitted Sheri to return to daily life. She did it with renewed momentum. One friend recalls: “One time she talked to me about her difficulty in expressing herself and this helped me to open up, to tell her about my own problems. Another time when she really wasn’t feeling well, she proposed going out to lunch together, to give me a chance to talk.”
During this time period, Sheri wrote: “Sometimes I’m afraid of a relapse, but I renew my “yes” to God. I’ve realized that no one can know how long they’ll live. But this makes me live the Gospel better than before.” In 1987 the dreaded relapse occurred. She wrote in her diary: “I knew that if the leukemia returned, it would be even more difficult to cure. This really troubled me. I kept telling myself to give all my worries to Our Lady. When I really did it with all my heart, I noticed such a profound peace.”
She offered up the suffering involved with the new transplant for all the Gen in the world. The disease gave her another break, but in 1989 there was a third relapse. She wrote: “Who knows if they’ll suggest chemotherapy again . . . or nothing anymore. I don’t know what to do. I want to give God what he wants from me.”
This time nothing could be done. Sheri therefore decided that she would spend her last days at home. She also expressed a very firm wish: “I don’t want to die already dead!” And from then on she made every effort to always be “alive” by putting love of neighbor at the center of every action. She was strengthened by daily telephone calls from the focolarine.
Sheri was nearing the end of her life on earth. When someone near to her asked if she was frightened, she immediately responded: “Frightened? No. I’m more than ready!” At 7:30 on the morning of July 27, 1989 she breathed her last. Her mother said: “There was a great presence of God in that room.”
Sheri had asked not to have her wake in a funeral home, as is the custom in the United States, but in a church so that more people could attend. More than a thousand people attended her funeral. Many of the young people present commented: “She kept on adding love to love all the way until the end.”